Seven Years by Guerric Haché

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SUMMARY: Entry for the December Flash Fiction Contest, theme: "Tradition." Set in the Zearth world; but, as you can see, not everything in the Zearth world needs to involve magic and mutants.

"How long you going to be?"

Toras shrugged. His sister gave him a worried look, and sighed. "Well, at least show up for dinner tonight. You may be Zefazji now, but you're still my brother, and it's still tradition. Every Christmas, dinner together. The kids will want to see their funny uncle from abroad, too."

He smiled. "Don't worry about it, Sarah. I'll be back in time for the goose. I just need to visit an old friend on Churchill Street."

Her worried look became a worried smile. "I didn't know anybody still lived there, from the old days."

"A few do, sure. Gotta get a bite to eat – I'll be on my way. See you!"

He grasped her by the forearm and squeezed, the traditional Zefazji gesture between family; she did the same in return, albeit somewhat gingerly. They were both born English, but he had changed, had given up his past and his old name, and had gone abroad to become one of the Zefazji. He knew she didn't understand why he still visited her every Christmas. He smiled as he thought about it; he didn't have the heart to tell her that he only really came back to pay his annual visit to Nelson. His own little tradition.

His sister lived in an upscale district, the kind of place the neighborhood of his youth had always tried to imitate. He walked down the streets, barely noticing the chilly breeze and the thin blanket of snow. The town wasn't big, and his old school came into view soon enough, closed for the holidays. He still remembered the day he had broken down the front door, seven years ago, and ran away from it all. Nelson was the only person he had said goodbye to, before leaving the town for good.

As he turned down a street that led to his old home, he smiled at an attractive young lady who was walking down the street, escorted by a less attractive young man. It was Alex; Toras had pinched her bum once, back when he was doing his A-Levels. She had never really forgiven him.

"Hello, Alex," he called out.

She slowed down, and averted her gaze. The man gave him a nasty glare, but she still responded. "Hello, er – sorry Mark, I can't remember –"

"Toras," he said. "It's all right. How are things?"

She was looking nervously at the man she was with, whose open contempt Toras could almost smell. It was no doubt the tattoo on the side of his right hand that gave him away. "Things are fine, Toras," she said. "I'm sorry – I have to go. Busy, you know!"

The pair walked past him, in rather more of a rush than they had been before. He grinned, and walked on. The butcher's was first; he walked inside and bought a small packet of sliced turkey meat; the butcher gave him an ancient look. The look of a man who has asked the same question for years, has never got a straight answer, and has finally given up. He smiled, thanked the butcher, and left the store. As he walked towards the street where they used to live, he picked some of the meat from the package and ate it up. Not too cold; good.

The old street Toras' family had once lived on had seen better days. Since the War, many of the people had moved away from the area; the simpler-minded thought it was cursed, and the less simple-minded realized that the real-estate value of the place had plummeted.

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